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Davis, California

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A century of celebration


UC Davis alumna reflects on great-grandfather’s role as first Picnic Day chair.

Come spring, thousands of visitors will flock to campus to experience what is believed to be the largest student-run event in the country. For some, though, Picnic Day is more than just a day of ice cream, giggles and dachshund races — it’s a celebration of life and a long-standing connection to the university. This is especially true for UC Davis alumna Caroline Stasulat, whose great-grandfather, Robert Lockhart, served as the first student Picnic Day chair in 1916.

“My grandmother was the keeper of all our family history,” Stasulat said. “Every year, my sister, parents and I had this tradition of going to our grandmother’s and she would cook us a big breakfast before we walked over as a family to campus to celebrate my earliest Picnic Days. That’s when she would tell me about her father’s role as chair.”

Lockhart spent his last year as undergraduate at “The University Farm,” a UC Berkeley extension that eventually became UC Davis. Although Picnic Day debuted in 1914, students did not assume the chair position until 1916. This year’s Picnic Day chair, fourth-year plant biology major Grace Scott, believes she shares a connection with Lockhart due to his past position and history with the campus.

“I can draw parallels between my life and Robert’s life,” Scott said. “He was an agricultural major, and I study plant biology. He was the first student chair, and 100 years later his legacy still stands. I hope it does for another 100 years. It wasn’t even UC Davis at that point, and it’s cool to see how the campus and Picnic Day have changed under the leadership of students.”

If Lockhart were alive today, he might be surprised to find that his role as Picnic Day chair was certainly not his only contribution to the campus. College students are notorious for finding creative solutions to their financial challenges — and apparently, things weren’t so different a century ago. Unable to afford horses of their own to ride out to the fields, Lockhart and his roommate built and rode the first bike ever used on the UC Davis campus. Amusingly, bicycles are now ubiquitous on campus, and the city of Davis is often listed among America’s best biking cities.

Like Lockhart, several other members of his family have also left long-lasting marks on the UC Davis community throughout the last century. His daughter, Marilyn Lockhart Wilson, worked in the Botany Department on-campus, while Caroline Stasulat’s other great-grandfather, James French Wilson, was appointed assistant professor of Animal Husbandry in 1919. Caroline Stasulat’s parents, Edie and Joe Stasulat, both worked in various academic departments and the Internship and Career Center (ICC). Ms. Edie Stasulat also worked at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC), and just recently retired from the Philosophy Department in July 2015.

“The really interesting thing is that since my great-grandfather was there, every following generation has discovered UC Davis and developed their relationship with the campus on their own,” Stasulat said. “It was never ‘your grandfather worked there so you have to go there.’ It wasn’t a mandated tradition. It all happened organically.”

As a teen, Stasulat never planned to attend UC Davis herself. Although she was brought up in close proximity to the university, she always dreamt of a future far away from home. That dream fell apart when her father passed away in her senior year of high school. Stasulat chose to stay local, and support her family as everyone healed. Today, she sees that decision as a blessing.

“I got to have some exposure to the work he had done in the [ICC],” Stasulat said. “I worked all four years there as a peer adviser and I got to do meaningful work and learned about what he had done from his colleagues. I was in a place that, after a loss, still had a really strong sense of family connection.”

Stasulat’s connection to her family’s history with UC Davis ended up finding its way into every aspect of her life. As an undergraduate, Stasulat found a passion in Native American studies, and went on to pursue a degree in the subject.

“Whenever I go back to campus, it feels nostalgic to the max,” Stasulat said. “Not only do I have memories of my own time and studies here, but whenever I go to Hart Hall, I imagine my great-grandfather working in the basement. It’s so meaningful to be in a place that has meant so much to your family and to others for such a long time. It’s an honor to have this relationship and this history with UC Davis.”

Though this year marks the 102nd Picnic Day, it’s a centennial celebration for Stasulat. Talks of a party and family reunion are in the air, and those involved in alumni engagement are enthusiastic about any future celebrations and alumni involvement with the school.

Jen Thayer, director of programs at the Cal Aggie Alumni Association, works with alumni worldwide, encouraging them to share their knowledge and their expertise with the campus. According to Thayer, alumni should return to campus in order to “relive their own experience,” and share with students what they can do to make their time here great.

“Alumni are there to be the voice of the university after students are no longer here,” Thayer said. “Alumni are the ones speaking fondly about the school, speaking to prospective students and the community of their experience here.”

Thayer, Scott and others involved in Picnic Day planning often collaborate on outreach efforts for the event, including the annual Picnic Day Breakfast. At the heart of every project is an emphasis on community, which is especially meaningful to Scott.

“Picnic Day is my sense of community here at Davis,” Scott said. “I’ve been doing this for four years, and getting involved makes me feel like I’m part of something and that’s something I really need for my own happiness. When I graduate and become an alum, I want to be invited to Picnic Day and made welcome and feel what’s going on — just like we do for Stasulat’s family.”


Written by Anjali Bhat—features@theaggie.org


Note: As of Feb. 19, 2016, some changes for accuracy in this article were made. 


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